Beasts of the East: NBA Season Preview

Beasts of the East: NBA Season Preview


For the second time in four years, LeBron James changed the landscape of the Eastern Conference and proved just how powerful he is. In a letter to Sports Illustrated, the four-time NBA MVP and two-time NBA Champion announced to the world that he was “coming home” to Northeast Ohio.

Unsurprisingly, the Cleveland Cavaliers have become the favorites in the East with the addition of James. They have also agreed to send number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Love, according to multiple sources.  Love will help the Cavs form a dynamic “Big Three” – even more potent and dangerous than the one in Miami that James was a part of. 

The Miami Heat's LeBron James passes the ball in the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (Hector Gabino/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)
The Miami Heat’s LeBron James passes the ball in the first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (Hector Gabino/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)

Point guard Kyrie Irving is an upgrade to a declining and injury-prone Dwyane Wade and Love is better than Chris Bosh in every category. A supporting cast of Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and Shawn Marion is far superior to anything that the Heat provided James over the last few seasons. 

Losing James was a big blow for Miami, but they recovered by signing free agent Luol Deng. Although Deng isn’t nearly as good as James, the Heat managed to also bring back Wade and Bosh, so they should be able to finish within the top four of the improved Eastern Conference, barring injuries.

The other top-tier free agent this summer was Carmelo Anthony, and after he visited the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, he ultimately decided to stick around in New York. 

The extra money that the Knicks offered him surely helped (five years, $124 million), but he appears to have bought in to the vision that president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher have for the franchise. His dramatic weight loss is the first step, as Jackson and Fisher have both said that fitness and conditioning are very important aspects of the triangle system, where moving the ball and moving yourself are priorities. 

The Knicks also acquired Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert in a deal that sent Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas. They then selected Cleanthony Early and Giannis Antetokoumpo with the two second-round draft picks that they received from the Mavericks. The Knicks are hoping that their roster shakeup and new system can lead to more wins, and hopefully find themselves back in the playoffs after missing them last season. 

While the Bulls struck out on signing Anthony, they still upgraded their roster significantly. Getting a healthy Derrick Rose back is akin to signing a high-level free agent, as the former-MVP looks to have returned to his former self on the court. 

In addition to having Rose back, the Bulls signed free agent Pau Gasol to a three-year contract. Down low beside Joakim Noah, the two big men should become a formidable duo, as both are highly skilled passers and Gasol gives the Bulls the offense that they were lacking last season. First-round draft pick Doug McDermott can also contribute in that category, as he led the nation in scoring last season with Creighton. 

One team that regressed this summer is the Indiana Pacers. After Lance Stephenson signed with the Charlotte Hornets as a free agent, the Pacers also lost Paul George to injury. George fractured his leg in a gruesome injury during a scrimmage with Team USA in Las Vegas and is expected to miss the entire season. 

The absences of Stephenson and George will ultimately be too much for the Pacers to recover from. An already offensively-challenged team, Indiana will now be without two of their top three scorers from a season ago. 

On the other hand, the Hornets should rise up the Eastern Conference rankings with Stephenson, who will form an all-New York backcourt with Bronx native Kemba Walker. 

The “Craziest Offseason of the Year” award goes to the Brooklyn Nets. 

Rookie head coach Jason Kidd tried to stab Nets General Manager Billy King in the back by demanding control of basketball operations and seeking a position in upper management in addition to his coaching duties. When owner Mikhail Prokhorov told Kidd to beat it, Kidd was ultimately traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he will be the head coach and nothing more. 

The Nets then lost free agent Paul Pierce to the Washington Wizards – a devastating blow considering that Pierce was consistent and productive in his lone season in Brooklyn, and the team gave up so many draft picks to acquire him. 

With Pierce, the Wizards are now a team to keep an eye on this season. Their young roster, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, will greatly benefit from Pierce’s leadership and basketball knowledge. 

The Eastern Conference is much improved from a year ago and should be far more competitive as well.